Signs of Hypercapitalism in the USA

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Thanks to the links included in posts right here on Bits, I have now become an avid reader of The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Education. With their daily updates and wide range of academic voices, these sites offer a wealth of information about the state of the academy and insights into the lives and morale of the professoriate. Except that a startling number of bloggers on The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Education aren’t professors at all. They are assorted businesspeople with lots of advice for those of us who have dedicated our lives to education, and with a not-so-veiled agenda. The main theme these days from the corporate pundits is that professors in the liberal arts just don’t get it. We’re behind the times, teaching all that literature and history stuff when what we should be doing is instructing our students how to set up their own Web sites, write computer code, and, in short, become trained workers for their own companies and consumers of their high-tech products. Now, it’s not as if I run around telling corporate CEOs how to run their businesses, though I would like to note that just as the corporate pundits try to blame high unemployment rates on us outdated liberal-arts types, it was the American financial services industry that plunged us into the Great Recession in the first place (look it up), and it was corporate America in general that demanded the free-trade agreements that have driven offshore a huge percentage of America’s working-class and middle-class employment opportunities. These are the facts. So why do academic Web sites like The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Education tolerate, and even encourage, businesspeople who stand to make huge profits from the destruction of the American university by replacing it with the likes of MOOC and TED? Why do they tolerate, and even encourage, schemes that would, in effect, turn academic employment into a kind of NBA, with a tiny handful of academic superstars pulling in huge salaries while the futures of I don’t know how many educators are being destroyed? (Just listen to Sebastion Thrun and others crow about how in just a few years there will only be ten universities left in the country.) The comments in response to these corporate “evangelists” of the brave new world of digital culture, who weigh in with their advice to professors to get with the times and get out of their classrooms and onto Facebook, suggest that many of us aren’t buying it. But for some reason The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Education are, by virtue of the high profile they give to non-academics on their academic sites. And this brings me to the semiotic point: when traditional academic forums are allowed to be overrun by corporate evangelists trying to reshape American higher education for their own financial profit (please look at how much hard work is going into ways to successfully “monetize” the MOOC), the moon is really in a new phase. This is a sign.  This is what hypercapitalism is all about. It is a world where the only thing that matters anymore is money, and the only people who matter are those who have it. Even our own journals are caving in. And we professors, who have chosen a vocation that has never before been about money and whose annual incomes, even in the ranks of the academic “stars,” may not equal the effective hourly wage of a Google or Apple executive, just don’t stand a chance.
About the Author
Jack Solomon is Professor Emeritus of English at California State University, Northridge, where he taught literature, critical theory and history, and popular cultural semiotics, and directed the Office of Academic Assessment and Program Review. He is often interviewed by the California media for analysis of current events and trends. He is co-author, with the late Sonia Maasik, of Signs of Life in the U.S.A.: Readings on Popular Culture for Writers, and California Dreams and Realities: Readings for Critical Thinkers and Writers, and is also the author of The Signs of Our Time, an introductory text to popular cultural semiotics, and Discourse and Reference in the Nuclear Age, a critique of poststructural semiotics that proposes an alternative semiotic paradigm.